From Ohio to Iraq and Back Again:The Founding of Smart Barn
Andrew Klein, grew up in western Ohio farming with his dad. They raised hogs and backyard chickens for eggs and meat. Andrew did a little bit of everything around the farm, feeding, scraping manure, even castrating hogs. Andrew recalls “My dad says I was the fastest knife in the USA at one point, but I’ve probably lost my edge since then.” He was always a computer enthusiast and the neighborhood computer guru.
Andrew spent two years working full-time on a large chicken farm, before starting school at Cedarville University. He joined the Ohio Army National Guard during his first year of college to help with tuition, went to basic training and then specialized as a combat engineer. After basic training, he was activated for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and spent six months on active duty before his unit was returned stateside without seeing any combat..
Andrew returned to college at Cedarville University and studied chemistry for a year but was activated again in late 2004 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom with A Co, 612th Engineer Battalion out of St. Mary’s, Ohio. “Our mission in Iraq was clearing IEDs. I was involved in numerous route clearance missions, experienced four direct IED explosions on Humvees where I was driver or gunner, and fought in several engagements with enemy forces attacking our convoys. I returned from my deployment to Cedarville, Ohio to my wife Anna, we had gotten married on my two week leave in August 2005. I settled down to catching up on school and starting a family, we had our first child, Josiah, in December 2006, about 11 months after I returned from Iraq.” On returning from Iraq, Andrew interned with a local defense contractor while earning his Bachelor’s in Chemistry. He later earned a Master’s in Materials Engineering while working as a support engineer on parachutes, ejection seats, and oxygen systems for the Air Force.
How did all of this bring Andrew into the entrepreneurial journey that birthed Smart Barn?
“Around 2012, my dad received a notice from the company that contracted him to raise pigs that he would have to install some sort of monitoring system to alert him if the power went out. We experimented with a couple alarm dialers, but they were cumbersome to install and operate, so with the help of a friend I developed a set of sensors to detect the temperature and alert my dad with a text message. We developed Smart Barn into a full set of wireless sensors and a cellular base that transmits data and alerts to a smartphone app. Most livestock are raised in large barns, and it is very important that the climate is carefully controlled and optimal for their growth.”
After a few iterations, Andrew felt there was a lot of promise, so he reached out to an online agriculture discussion board, about the idea, and immediately got some interested responses. It started in a very grassroots way, spreading slowly by word of mouth, and he got his first paying customers in 2014. In late 2014 he entered a business plan competition at the University of Dayton, winning 2nd place and a $15,000 award. In 2015, he entered the Verizon Powerful Answers competition, and won 3rd place and $250,000. These awards helped build infrastructure and develop the product, (which Andrew now sells from his website) but Smart Barn has still grown mostly by word-of-mouth and referrals, in a farming community that thrives on trust and relationships.
“We grew from working on my own in my garage, to myself and a 30 hour-per-week technician who handles most of the sensor building and technical support. We currently have Smart Barn in over 75 farms across the US and Canada and are growing at about 4 farms per month. Growth has been slow, because farmers are slow to adopt, but more and more farmers see the potential. We are launching a patent-pending feed bin sensor this year, which will accelerate our growth, and improve our product offering.”